(A Memorial Evening in memory of Ostrolenka's martyrs)
An Award to a Jewish Writer in Poland
The Polish Council of State awarded Mark Rakowski the Knight's Cross of the Polonia Restituta Order for his socialist and literary work. The award was conferred upon him on his 70th birthday.
The ceremony conferring the award was conducted by the Deputy Minister of Culture and the Arts, Kazimierz Rusinek, on the 10th of August.
Mark Rakowski, translator, critic and journalist, began his work more than 40 years ago, with his translation of the novel, Heart, by Edmondo De Amicis, into Yiddish. Over the years, he has translated more than 50 works from Polish, English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Russian. Rakowski has always combined his literary work with socialist activity. In the period between the two World Wars, he was an active member of the Jewish Writers Association, and participated in the first congress of Soviet writers.
Because of his revolutionary activity and the fact that he translated the works of leftist writers, Rakowski was imprisoned by the Polish government in the Kartuz- Bereza concentration camp during the period between the two wars.
Mark Rakowski, who looks temperamental and angry, but is actually good-hearted and has a sense of humor, has reached the age of seventy. This seems like one of his jokes. Who would believe that this man, solid, vigorous and emanating liveliness, has already passed his seventh decade? But when one remembers what he has done in his life, what he has endured and what he has achieved one understands that it is true.
The name of Mark Rakowski is closely tied to Yiddish literature in Poland between the two World Wars. To call him a writer and translator is not an accurate definition; a publisher not enough; a public activist and political prisoner this is not yet all. Mark Rakowski is an institution in and of himself. As an expert in different languages, he brought works of different nations to Yiddish literature. He translated from the French, Italian, English, German, Spanish and Portuguese, not to mention Russian. Who knows, perhaps I have omitted a language!
Rakowski took upon himself no easy mission translating world literature's superb creations. For example, Madame Bovary, Salammbô and Three Tales by Flaubert; Les Bourreaux [The Hangmen], White Terror, Jésus by Henri Barbusse, The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (together with the poet, Israel Shtern), El paraiso de las mujeres [The Paradise of Women] by Blasco Ibáñez; stories by Edgar Allan Poe, children's stories by Edmondo De Amicis, and other translations of Paniat Istrati, Mikhail Zoschenko, Pierre Loti, Jack London, Japanese writers and others.
He began his literary work in 1918. In the beginning, he used his real name, as well as a pen name, Merman. He published his writings himself, but also worked with other publishers, such as Gitlin, Szymon Zaczkowski and Mozaik. We can properly appreciate his literary activity if we take into account that the Jewish reader during that period did not frequent
secondary schools and universities, did not know foreign languages, and was introduced to European literature through translations alone. Among his loyal readers are also "common" people and laborers: seamstresses, shoemakers, clerks and workmen thus they tasted the excellence of European classics.
Translation, however, is only one facet of his works. He also published periodicals such as Iberblik (Overview), Iberboy (Renewed Construction) and publications connected with the Polish Communist party (today it is permissible to talk about this). He also published the writings of a group of leftist writers, such as Kalman Lis and others.
Mark Rakowski was not a party member, but he was bound heart and soul to the Communist movement. He did not hide this and, therefore, was persecuted by the Polish government, and even sent to the Kartuz- Bereza concentration camp in 1937. Nevertheless, he stood proudly, as befits the Yiddish translator of Henri Barbusse.
He spent the war years in the U.S.S.R. At the end of the war, he went back to Poland, to Warsaw, and harnessed his great energy to literary activity again. From the German, he translated The Jewess of Toledo, by Leon Feuchtwanger. The People's Republic of Poland recognized him as a man who was useful to the regime, and promised him that he would be able to support himself respectably, as was proper for a person with rights. Despite this, he did not rest on his laurels, but always looked for innovations. His head was full of new ideas and projects, which, in my opinion, have not been utilized properly.
And again, we meet Mark Rakowski, as he was thirty years ago. He seems full of anger, but, in a moment, it becomes a smile, hilarity and firm friendship. We embrace him and express a wish that he remain thus until 120. His jubilee is also the jubilee of Yiddish literature in Poland today. Its roots are drawn from Poland before the war, where Rakowski sowed his fertile seeds.
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